He's the Gretzky of lacrosse

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

When he walks off the back playing field outside TD Waterhouse Stadium, he looks just like all the other field lacrosse players.

Sweaty, a little dusty, ready for some food and a little rest. But there's no S emblazoned on his chest.

There should be.

Gary Gait is considered to be one of the best lacrosse players who ever held a stick. Now retired from the box game, Gait has set records and won just about every award there is. He's been called the Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Joe Montana of lacrosse. He does things with a lacrosse stick everyone else can only imagine. And over the next 10 days, he'll be looking to do something he hasn't done, lead Canada to a world field lacrosse championship.

Gait is a member of Canada's national team that will participate in the championships opening Thursday at TD Waterhouse Stadium and North London fields.

To lead Canada he may well have to be a mix of all those great athletes. Anyone hoping to win a world title must go through the powerhouse U.S. team, which last lost a game in the 1978 championship.

It was a loss to Canada when Gait was 11.

Heit retired from the box game but still coaches the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League.

He wields his magic in the outdoor game. Last season, Gait led the Major Lacrosse League's Baltimore Bayhawks to a championship as a player and coach and was named the league's most valuable player.

Gait won't play in the MLL this year because he's looking to spearhead efforts to develop a summer league for the NLL. He's also president of NDP Lacrosse, a development program for high school players that encourages tournament play and college preparation.

Gait is a lacrosse marketing machine.

Throughout his career, he's always delivered. He'll be in a tournament where that reputation will lead to much being expected of him.

"I just love lacrosse. I love to play," Gait said. "It was time for me to retire in the indoor game. But last summer I moved to attack for the first time ever and had a good season with Baltimore . . . and all that good stuff, and it kept me motivated to play a different position.

"Pressure? Not at all. I go back to my coaching role over the past few years knowing you've got to fill a role and a position on the team and that's all I'm looking to do.

"I'll do what the team needs and help out where I can. I'm not exactly in my prime but we have a lot of good players. Hopefully, I can just help the team be successful."

Skill aside, Gait's drive to be the best is part of the reason he's playing. A world field lacrosse championship and a win over the Americans would be nice additions to a long list of accomplishments.

"I love to compete. That's where it comes from, the challenge of all the expectations. It's great to be able to go out there and show them that you can play, show them you can step up to the challenge."

The challenge in this tournament is to put a field team together in a short period of time with players mostly used to playing in an arena.

"Most of these players have played box since they were six years old," said Canadian coach Frank Nielsen. "Adjusting to from box to field takes a little longer.

"We had a tournament in Vail last week and that helps. We played U.S. teams who are field lacrosse teams. If we had played in Canada, it would have been a box team against a box team and that wouldn't have helped us.

"It's a mindset. Shooting is the biggest thing. In box you know you have the boards there, the ball will come back. You don't have that here, so you have to adjust."

Nielsen is general manager of the Maple Ridge Burrards of the Western Lacrosse League. Before that he was coach and GM of the New Westminster Salmonbellies.

This is his third world field lacrosse championship as Canada's coach.

Gait said getting together at the last minute as a national team is "the way of the world" with the outdoor game.

And while a Canada-U.S. final would be a marketing dream for this event, he isn't looking that far ahead.

"We've got to get there. But we'll see. They've only lost one game ever, but with us the last couple of worlds, it's been close."


Videos

Photos